Rock It Science…Couch Curling for Dummies…

I admit it…I am what’s known as a “couch curler”…I have watched and enjoyed curling every winter for the last 30 years or so (I can’t play because of my bad knees).  It all started when I was about eighteen…I was just coming off my Wayne Gretzky crush, when I stumbled on a Junior Curling event on TV.  It was 1980, and skip John Kawaja from Northern Ontario won it all.  He was gorgeous (Wayne who?)!

John played Third for Ed Werenich's winning 1983 Brier Team...that's John second from the right...photo by Doug Shanks, Canadian Press

Having been made aware of my love for a sport that causes many Americans to scratch their heads and ask “What’s that?”, my friend Todd urged me to do a piece on curling: “Wendy…you really, really, really need to post something about the sport of curling.”  The Brier (the Canadian national men’s tournament – the Super Bowl of curling) was just played this past weekend, and I like my readers to be happy, so…here goes…I present “Couch Curling for Dummies”, a fun guide which will allow you to impress your friends with your vast knowledge of a sport that most people south of the 49th Parallel don’t know exists!

The Game Has Ends and is Called a Draw Even When the Score Isn’t Tied

A traditional curling match or draw has ten ends, which aren’t “endings”, but sections of the game, like innings in baseball or quarters in football (a match can be shorter than ten ends, if one team is getting their butts kicked and forfeits!).  Each team delivers eight stones for each end.  The ends themselves aren’t timed individually, but each team has 73 minutes to throw their stones during the regular game, and the option of taking two 60-second timeouts.  If extra ends are required, they get an extra 10 minutes and one timeout per end to play. 

The Team Has Ends

Each curling team or rink has afront end: the lead and the second.  The lead delivers his two stones, followed by the second, who throws his two.  These folks are the main sweepers for the team, usually the muscles of the outfit.  The team’s back end is where the brains are, the third (or mate, usually only in the platonic sense) and the skip.  The third plays after the second, and offers advice to the skip about team strategy.  The third also sweeps when the lead and the second throw their stones.  The skip is the boss, and is usually the best player on the team (he almost never sweeps, unless a stone needs “extra help” to get where they want it to go!).  He calls the shots…skips need to be both smart and good yellers (see “What the Skip Yells” below).  People who curl nearly always have day jobs…curling doesn’t pay the big bucks like hockey, and players usually travel on their own dime!  Curlers are people you’d run into when you’re getting groceries or picking up your kids at school.  I’ve never heard of a curler using “performance-enhancing” drugs.

The Game is Played on a Sheet With Houses and Hacks at Each End

The sheet is a carefully-prepared patch of ice about 150 feet long by 16.5 feet wide.  Small droplets of water are intentionally sprayed on the ice that cause irregularities on the surface (pebble), allowing the rocks to curl (travel in a curved fashion rather than a straight line).  At each end of the sheet, there are three concentric rings, a red one measuring 4′, surrounded by a white one measuring 8′, inside a blue one measuring 12’…these are the houses, or the targets that the players are shooting for.  In the middle of the house is the button, a one-foot circle which is the bullseye…stones of the same colour closest to the button at the conclusion of an end will score (see “How To Score Points”).  Twelve feet behind each button are the hacks, two rubber-lined holes 3″ from the centre line which give the thrower something to push against with his foot when delivering the throw (he would choose the appropriate hole based on which foot he pushes with).  There are also horizontal lines on the sheet: the near hog line is closest to the hack…the player must let go of his rock before the stone touches the near hog line, and the rock must cross the far hog line (without crossing the back line or touching the sides) to be in play.  The T-line goes through the middle of the house, and is the point where the front end has to stop sweeping once the rock touches it.  Only the skip can sweep the rock after it’s crossed the T-line, and this is also the only point at which the other team can sweep a rock. 

Curling sheet – CL: Centreline • HOL: Hogline • TL: Teeline • BL: Backline • HA: Hackline with Hacks • FGZ: Free Guard Zone (diagram from Wikipedia.org)

Everybody Has A Broom, Rocks, a Slider and a Gripper

Each team member carries a broom, which is really a long-handled brush used to balance when delivering a rock, clean the ice in front of a stone (sweeping lightly), and sweep a rock, which means really digging into the ice in front of a stone while it’s in motion to make it go faster and straighter (this is where the “muscle” comes in for the front end of the team).  The rocks are 38 to 44 lb. polished chunks of granite fitted with coloured handles, usually either red or yellow in tournament play.  A narrow 5″ ring on the bottom of the rock is the only part of the stone that actually touches the ice.  Sliders are slipped over the toe of one shoe of the curlers on their sliding foot so that they can glide easily down the ice when delivering their shots.  The other shoe is their gripper.  Some curlers use curling gloves to grip the rock or the broom more easily.  Players use stopwatches to track rock speed and make decisions about strategy.

Taking A Shot

To deliver a shot, a player crouches and places his gripper shoe in the hack with the stone in one hand (resting on the ice) and his broom in the other.  Aiming toward the skip who is holding his broom where he wants the stone at the other end of the sheet, the player rests his own broom on the ice for balance as he pulls the stone back, then lunges smoothly out from the hack pushing the stone ahead while the slider foot is moved in front of the gripper foot, which trails behind.

The Canadian team taking a shot at the 2006 Olympics (photo by Bjarte Hetland)

Once the rock comes out of the shooter’s hand, it’s up to the sweepers to make sure it gets where it’s supposed to go…the skip tells them what to do.

Types of Shots

Making good shots in curling takes years and years of practice, as well as a steady hand.  Good sweepers help too.

A draw shot is one that is simply sent into play without knocking another stone out.  A freeze is where a stone is shot so that it lands as close as possible to another stone already in play, and makes it nearly impossible to take out.  The draw and the freeze are the precision shots, because they travel much more slowly than the takeout shots, and are harder to control. 

A takeout is one where the shooter is removing another stone in play by hitting it with his own: in a peel, the shooter hits the other stone hard enough that the shooter’s stone will also go out of play (if he wants to blank the end – see “How To Score Points”).  A raise is where the shooter uses the delivered stone to bump another one forward, and a raise takeout is a shot in which the delivered stone bumps a second stone which in turn knocks a third stone out of play (also called a runback).         

What the Skip Yells

1. “Hard” or “Hurry Hard“.  Tells the sweepers to sweep harder and faster.

2. “Offor “Whoa”.  Tells the sweepers to stop sweeping a rock, but not necessarily cleaning it.

3. “Right Off“.  Tells the sweepers not to sweep or clean a rock.

4. “Never“.  This lets the sweepers know that the rock needs to curl and that they should stay off of it.      

Note: These commands rarely work with children or if one is caught in a traffic jam.

How to Score Points – Slide Softly and Carry a Big Hammer

Points are scored after each end depending on how many rocks a team has closest to the button in the house without an opposing stone intermixed (one point for each rock)…with good players, it is rare to score more than 3 points in a given end (common scores are 1 or 2).  The rock closest to the button is called the shot rock, while the next closest one is second shot, and so on.  Only one team can score points in each end.

The team who delivers the last rock of the end is said to have the hammer – this is a huge advantage.  Who has the hammer in the first end is usually determined by a coin toss…after that, whoever didn’t score in the preceding end has the hammer in the next one.  If the end is blanked, the team who has the hammer keeps it for the next end.  If a team manages to score in an end where they don’t have the hammer, it’s called a steal (no one is penalized in this case).

After the Game

Once a draw is finished, the players generally shake hands, gather up their stuff, and get off the ice.  Later, they may stack the brooms, which means socializing with each other or their opponents, usually over a beer or two.  They might also trade curling pins which are often collected by players and spectators alike, and displayed on sweaters, vests and hats.

Pin collectors Roger and Bob compare notes at this year's Brier...photo by Morris Lamont, London Free Press

The next time you’ve got three hours to kill on a winter weekend, flip on a curling game on TSN, and curl up on the couch with some popcorn!  I’m looking forward to watching the PVR of The Brier tonight, even though I already know who won.  I’ll be yelling “Hurry hard!” at Glen Howard’s Ontario team!

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59 Comments

Filed under memories, satire, self-discovery

59 responses to “Rock It Science…Couch Curling for Dummies…

  1. Another couch curler! I grew up in curling rinks in rural Manitoba, inhaling second hand smoke and eating homemade pies at bonspiels. My mom skipped a rink and won so many prizes that — even when I was in university — she was couriering me microwaves and toaster ovens.

    Of course, I watched the Brier. And it helps that I know the lead on Stouten’s rink (my mom’s neighbour and my friend’s husband).

    Good to find another fan!

    • Cool, Leanne…I haven’t spent much time at the rink, except when my oldest daughter curled a little in middle school, and when I interviewed a 92-year-old lady curler for the newsletter I used to write for West Saint John, New Brunswick. I did get invited to an excellent dinner for the visiting Scottish lady curlers at that time! I’m excited to watch The Brier tonight, even though I know Stoughton won…I’ve always loved the Howard brothers! Wendy

  2. I now know more about curling than I do about football, baseball, and basketball. I’m going to have to change citizenship.

  3. I know very little about curling but enjoyed watching it when the Olympics were on. Guess now I know more after reading your post..Thanks, Wendy!

  4. I’ve always wondered why curlers don’t slip and fall more often.

  5. LOVE curling…don’t understand it–well, but now I do…
    seems like such a good-natured sport…pot roast and gin and tonics all around…you know?
    blessings
    jane

    • Even after watching curling for all these years, Jane, I’m still learning about the nuances of the game! I left some stuff out, because I didn’t want to overwhelm people! It is definitely a sport that ordinary people can take part in… Hugs, Wendy

  6. I learn something new every day!!

  7. Thanks for the introduction to curling, Wendy! Very interesting – I knew next to nothing about it, except that I think it’s also popular in Scotland and Ireland. There are some similarities in terminology with bowls (lawn bowls), which my parents play.
    Sunshine xx

    • Yes, Sunshine…lawn bowling and curling are quite similar in the object of the game, at least. There was a lawn bowling club in West Saint John where I used to live…the average age of the members was about 70, I think! I was just mentioning to IM that there was a visiting ladies team from Scotland when I interviewed a 92-year-old lady curler from Saint John a few years ago. Hugs, Wendy

  8. Wendy, thanks so much for the lesson on curling! I don’t think there are any curling teams in sunny southern California but it sure looks like fun!

  9. I have to admit that I used to scoff at curling. I mean, the brooms? Growing up with brutal Northeast winters, I understand the concept of having to stretch for entertainment when there’s not much else to do, but curling seemed like more of a stretch than seemed reasonable.

    And then…I saw it. The Olympics. The beautiful stones. The Norwegian men’s pants. I was hooked…HOOKED, I tells you! I couldn’t look away! I still don’t get it, but then again, a guilty pleasure is probably even better with a little confusion.

    So, I was wrong and I apologize to Canada and its people for any negative things I may have said in the past about curling. I’ve been converted! 🙂

    • Thanks, limr! I humbly accept your apology on behalf of all Canadians! The Norwegian men’s pants were something else, weren’t they? Not sure if the Canadian men are brave enough for that! Glad you stopped by! Wendy

  10. 1959duke

    Wendy, Did you hear of the new support group its called The Wayne Gretzky Crush?

  11. 1959duke

    The real question is he over you?

  12. I don’t know what to do this week. No curling on TV. Very unhappy that Martin, Howard and Gushue (in no particular order) weren’t the three medal winners at the Brier…
    I thought it was great that Prime Minister Harper could attend one of the Brier games. Can you think of any other country where the leader of the country could walk into an arena, with no huge fanfare, and sit in the stands to watch a game?

  13. Wow, who knew curling was so complicated! This puts American football to shame.

  14. I’m not into sports except for cricket, and that only coz it’s impossible to be Indian and not venerate cricket to some extent. It’s the only thing more popular than religion 😉
    I had heard of curling though and thought it was just people chasing rocks across ice with sticks, rather like hockey just excruciatingly slow. Thanks for setting me straight 🙂 Like Maura said, who knew there was so much science behind what looks like a deceptively simple game?!

    When was it invented? I’m just thinking about how one thinks up a game like this!
    Hugs, H.

  15. I have a unique relationship with curling. I enjoy the sport and am an avid fan for about 10 days every 4 years. Then the Olympics end. But I really do enjoy watching and was surprised to learn they have leagues here in Pittsburgh.

  16. jacquelincangro

    What an education Wendy! I’ve had no exposure to curling except for clips during the Olympics. Now I can see why so many people enjoy it. I like a sport where you can wear comfortable clothes. 🙂

  17. I, who regularly deride most organized sports, am a closet curling fan! I fell in love a couple of Winter Olympics ago, when my British husband (half-Scottish and a committed curling aficionado) introduced me. I sat their slack jawed, staring at the TV, convinced that someone was playing a practical joke on me. Then I sat down and forced him to explain to me how it worked, the point of the broom, and demanded again that he swear it wasn’t a joke.

    Now I can talk curling with the best of them. A lifelong Floridian, I am fascinated by all things wintery and icy, so I love to catch curling on cable and pretend it isn’t 590 degrees outside 🙂

    Thanks for the primer, though, because there’s LOTS about curling I don’t know!!

    • Good for Dave for converting you, Amanda! I’m glad I could provide a few nibbles of knowledge for you…even after watching it for 30 years, I had to do a lot of research to come up with my post! Thanks for reading! Wendy

  18. I’m glad you wrote this, Wendy, although I’m still convinced I could win at least the bronze medal in the Olympics, should I ever convince a couple people to join my curling team. Or, if not the bronze, then at least the tin foil.

    • You’re probably fairly coordinated, Todd, and I’m guessing you’re a patient guy…you’d probably do all right! I think you might have a little trouble qualifying for the Olympics though, without working your way up through the ranks! Clay says they have curling leagues in Pittsburgh…maybe you could convince Sweetie to move so you could pursue your dream? LOL! Wendy

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  20. The first time I was really aware of curling was the first Olympics it was in. I believe it was the first. Don’t remember now but I know that every time I turned on tv during the Olympics I found myself looking for curling and not ice skating. For a sport that is so quiet, it is genuinely exciting.

  21. Interesting post indeed, Wendy. I know very little about curling…

  22. smalltownbiglife

    Loved this piece on curling. I have said as I walked past the Olympics on television that if curling is a sport, I think vacuuming should be and I could win the gold! But really it’s like any sport, the more you understand it, the more you appreciate and enjoy watching it. No one seems to want to watch me sweep my floors though!

  23. I’ve watched curling, read your article, and still don’t get it. >.< I think I am a curling-dunce.

  24. Oh my goodness — you really do love curling! I’m going to have to come back and read this the next time it comes on TV. Hope you got to “stack the brooms” after the show!

    • I love watching it at least, Melissa! As I recall, I watched the Brier mostly by myself…Jim was out giving our son a driving lesson, and picking up one of our daughters at cheerleading. The other two girls came in the living room to see what I was watching, but chose to watch Glee in the family room instead! Thanks for reading! Wendy

  25. Oh, I couldn’t get enough of curling. The pace suits me. There are about three sports I can follow with my own eyeballs and the other two are shuffleboard. I don’t usually pimp myself in a comment section but I think you would enjoy my curling piece.

    • Neat, Murr! This post has been fun because I’ve found many of my readers were actually “closet curling fans” (some I never suspected!). I’ll check out your post! I’m certainly enjoying the other ones I’ve read of yours! Wendy

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  27. HA! You know, Wendy, I hadn’t read this yet when I wrote my post — I’m forever a few days behind in the blogosphere. So…let it be known that I was NOT thinking of you, and probably would have chosen a different sport to inlude in my list of “symptoms.” 😉 Anyway, I know that you don’t have writing apathy since you’re so prolific.

    Happy couch curling!

  28. Wendy! I love this! Plus if you get to buy another pair of shoes… I’m always in. Also, I love to crouch. #IYKWIM.

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